To learn more about my historical novel, Of Ships and Sealing Wax, please visit my other site, suzannejshaw.com. Thank you!
From York, we were soon back on the train, this time for a brief stay in Edinburgh before an overnight trip out to Deeside. We were driven around by Your Tour Scotland (thanks very much, Don), so we were able to visit spots both on and off the beaten track, including on Day One a ruined abbey at Balmerino and another spectacular ruin, Dunnottar Castle (say duh-NOT-are) on the North Sea. Dunnottar is dramatic and windblown, so we followed our visit there right up with a warming lunch at the Marine Hotel in Stonehaven. Have you ever heard of salmon skink? I Here’s a recipe I found for salmon cullen skink, which is the same idea. Cullen skink is ubiquitous in Scotland, more or less a chowder made with cod. The Marine Hotel serves salmon skink in a bread bowl. Definitely one of the best meals I had on this whole trip!
Our post-lunch stops included romantic and mysterious Burn O’Vat and a ruined medieval church and churchyard, which was used until much later, at Tullich. We ended the day in Ballater, a lovely town with the River Dee running through it, overlooked by the Cairngorm Mountains.
Yes, it had been a bit cold and occasionally wet up to this point, but overnight the weather shifted and the morning brought both sunshine and warmer air. Yay! The scenery was beautifully on view for our Day Two drive along the river and visits to Crathie Kirk and churchyard near Balmoral (though not the castle), the villages of Balmoral and Braemar (home of the Highland Games, and the lovely, lyrically-named Linn O’Dee.
In more detail, the British royal family worships at Crathie Kirk when they are at their Scottish home, Balmoral Castle. One interesting person buried in this churchyard is John Brown, Queen Victoria’s faithful Scottish attendant brought to boisterous and rough-hewn life by Billy Connolly in the film Mrs. Brown, with Judi Dench as the queen.
Apparently, Queen Victoria herself was fond of the Linn O’Dee. Easy to see why, since the river flows rapidly through a picturesque rocky gorge at this point. In Scotland, a linn is exactly that — where a watercourse has cut through a shelf of hard rock creating a narrow steep-sided cut through which the watercourse runs.
Braemar is another one of those appealing, higher-elevation towns with mountain air and a river (the Dee) running through it. We were not there long, but it was fun to note a tongue-in-cheek sign in the local butcher shop:
“locally caught” HAGGIS’s ‘sold here’ take One home!
For more about haggis, click here. It does actually taste better than it sounds.
We arrived back in Edinburgh looking forward to a couple of free days before our Best of Tour Scotland was due to start. We spent our first day in the city walking through Princes Street Gardens and exploring the Royal Mile. One of the very photogenic places on my to-see list was the Writer’s Museum just off the Royal Mile. The museum honors three great Scottish writers, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
As a matter of interest, it is hard to overestimate the importance of Scott’s legacy just as it is hard to overestimate the importance of whisky to experiencing Scottish culture. (More about that in Part 3.) Just be aware that the Scott Monument in Edinburgh is the largest monument to a writer in the world. And he was a historical novelist. Just saying.
Shopping was also involved in getting to know Edinburgh, since Scotland features loads of tempting cashmere and wool items such as shawls, scarves, hats, and gloves. And I never stop looking at books. I often take photos of those that intrigue me because I know I can’t carry them home. I did buy a crime novel set in the Highlands, though — His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. I’m well into it now and it’s pretty bloody entertaining so far, too.
The next day we found time for an outing to Rosslyn Chapel, now widely known because it features in the ending of The Da Vinci Code, but nevertheless an important and unusual structure in its own right, and in the ownership of a single family since 1446. We had fun traveling to the village of Roslin and back by public bus, which allowed us to see more of the city as well as suburbs and countryside. In the evening, we took in another photo op in a stroll through Dean Village, finishing in time to meet up with our tour.
More about that in Part 3!
Travelogue time! Even though the UK had a late spring this year, it was a joy to spend three weeks on the other side of the pond, mostly in Scotland. To keep the narrative digestable, I’ll post about the trip in parts. First up, London and York.
I love London and was so happy to be back in my favorite area, Bloomsbury. I was able to check a few things off my to-do-this-time list. (I never get to all of them.)
- A peek into the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum (start viewing this YouTube video at 2:19)
- Fish at North Sea Fish, plus fish and chips at The Swan for good measure
- Browsing and buying at Blade Rubber Stamps
- Breakfast at the 49 Cafe on Marchmont Street
On our one full day in London, we walked around St. Paul’s and across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. Later, after a pretty much obligatory pilgrimage to Foyle’s flagship store on Charing Cross Road, I dipped into the National Portrait Gallery. I had a particular reason for wanting to see works by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and then I just happened to stumble into a bust of him. Well, not literally.
By the way, during this trip I was reading Judith Flanders’ mysteries featuring Samantha Clair. They’re so engaging. Sam is a realistically rounded character — an accomplished introvert of a book editor who maintains a tangential, acidic, and astute inner monologue that I just love. I like her copper boyfriend Jake, too. Sadly, I finished the last current volume, A Cast of Vultures, on the plane home, but there’s a new installment coming soon. Pre-ordered.
OK, back to the travelogue. The next day, we took the train from Kings Cross to York. While waiting for our platform to be announced, we enjoyed watching youngsters and not-so-youngsters having their pictures taken as they pretended to board the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9¾. About two hours later, we were in the walled City of York. Since my first visit last year, York is one of my favorite places in Britain. Though it was cold, I was just glad not to be rained on so that it was possible to walk part way around the walls. York Minster dominates everywhere — which as one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe, it is entitled to do. The interior is alternately fascinating and awe-inspiring, with overwhelmingly beautiful expanses of stained glass and a serene octagonal Chapter House. To top off coming back to York, I returned to the warmest of welcomes at the same place I stayed last year, the delightful Parisi Hotel.
Next up, Edinburgh and the Deeside. Watch this space!
Ever been on a Road Scholar tour? No, me either, but that’s how I got to Mexico when a friend came up with the idea. We spent some time on our own in Mexico City and then joined others to explore San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. I left a piece of my heart there, where I’m still dancing the Mexican-style polka, drinking wine and margaritas, eating delicious food, and where my senses are awash with color and deep sentiment for Mexican landscape and Mexican people. I need to practice my Spanish and go back.
More photos to come, I think, but for now I will leave you with this stunning view of Guanajuato.
My last blog post mentioned traveling to Kauai and New Mexico, but I never posted any details or photos. The details are getting a little hazy, but in the interests of continuity, here are a few photos.
I do recall spending a lot of time at beaches (especially at sunrise) and shopping the sunshine markets, and drinking coffee.
Flew in and out of ABQ with a friend and met up with a new friend from the New Orleans trip but we spent most of our time in and around Santa Fe. I still feel bowled over by small towns like Madrid (MAD-rid) and Cerillos, the Sanctuary at Chimayo, Taos Pueblo, and the vibrancy and inclusiveness of Santa Fe. And oh, the cottonwoods!
I have neglected the hell out of this blog while finishing the manuscript for a historical novel, attending writers’ conferences, and traveling. Especially traveling for the last few months: New Orleans, Kauai, and Santa Fe – bing bing bing. So if you want to learn about the novel in progress, please do visit Of Ships and Sealing Wax. For more about these recent travels, read on.
Believe me, I know what a privilege it is to be able to travel so often, to such interesting places, and in such good company (even when it’s just my own). Travel does not, however, get easier with age. Accordingly, my motto is “go now.”
September 2017 ~ New Orleans
It was so much fun to visit New Orleans for the first time along with a group of friends. We attended the second All Souls Con, which celebrates Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy. Love these books and the All Souls community. There’s a TV series being made right this minute, too! But, New Orleans! Beautiful, complicated, haunting, and a little bruised in places. I just loved it. It’s hard to pick a favorite photo. Here are two, Preservation Hall and a street corner in the French Quarter:
October 2017 ~ Kauai
I planned this trip as a birthday present for myself. I know, lucky me. I was happy with my home away from home, which was a cottage at Fern Grotto Inn near Wailua. My agenda consisted of books, beaches, sunrises, writing, coffee, and slowing down. And a lot of papayas! My favorite beach this trip was probably Anini Beach. I could not choose a favorite coffee stop. Java Kai and Small Town Coffee in Kapa’a and Hā Coffee Bar in Lihue are all terrific, each in its own way. I have to shout out for Talk Story Books in Hanapepe, too. Below, a couple of lasting memories, sunrise at Wailua Beach on my first morning, writing at Hā Coffee. By the way, hā means breath or spirit, or the sacred breath of life within us all.
November 2017 ~ New Mexico
In November, folks who live in the Northwest yearn for the sun. You can find sun, color, history, and a unique kind of peace in and around Santa Fe and Albuquerque at this time of year. This trip offered up world-class museums (such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the New Mexico History Museum, and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque), fascinating glimpses into small towns like Madrid, Cerillos, and Chimayo, and an unforgettable visit to Taos Pueblo. Below: Cottonwood in Cerillos, el Santuaria de Chimayo.
Lots more photos from these adventures over on Instagram!
It’s not quite the end of daylight savings time, but I have brought in most of the outdoor furniture and coiled up the garden hose. The blue chair is still out front in case the weather allows. In the meantime, what are you reading? For entertainment, laughter, and distraction from grim news, I’m reading all the Chet and Bernie mysteries I can get my hands on. For reflection and improved understanding of the world at large, I have been reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Writing takes up a lot of my time these days. For news from that neck of the woods, hop on over here.
By the way, are you registered to vote? It’s more important this year than ever.